By Sarah Wright
Photos courtesy Remick Museum
The process of preserving foods in cans or jars, usually sterilized by a heat treatment, began in the late 18th century. In 1795, Napoleon Bonaparte offered a reward for whoever could develop a safe way to preserve food for his army as they traveled. A man named Nicholas Appert took on the challenge, but struggled for 15 years until he came up with a method that involved heat-processing food in glass jars reinforced with wire, and sealing them with wax. By 1810, Englishman Peter Durand had introduced a method for sealing food in tin cans. Later, in 1912, canning really took off in the United States when Thomas Kensett opened the first commercial canning establishment. Of course, no one really knew why canning worked to preserve food until almost a century later, when scientist Louis Pasteur was able to demonstrate how the growth of microorganisms causes food to spoil.